Friday, March 21

The Android’s Dream – John Scalzi

Harris Creek is the Earth’s Xenosapient Facilitator – when the State Department needs bad news broken to a non-human member of the Common Confederation, Harry does it. Some think it’s a waste of his skills, and it’s certainly not what he was trained for, so when a job that requires a unique approach comes up, it’s not surprising State assigns it to Harry. Following a massive intergalactic incident (winding up with a human and a well-connected alien diplomat dead), only one thing will prevent war and the enslavement of humanity, and Harry’s our best hope. All he has to do is find a sheep.
It’s not possible to do justice to The Android’s Dream without writing something half as long as the novel itself – it’s complexly plotted but highly readable, fantastic and improbable but believable, and very funny. I have three examples of the writing, to give a flavour of the way Scalzi thinks. Integral to the plot is an consciously-invented religion, the Church of the Evolved Lamb, a somewhat selective and small but loyal group comprised equally of Ironists and Empathists. It does, after all, take "a certain sort of person to join a church based on the desperate manoeuvres of a second-rate science fiction writer." Most of the members are predominantly secular; Archie, who would have said he was an Evolved Lamb because of the irony of joining a religion not even its creator believed in, begins to become convinced that the writings of the church unwittingly contain truth, which if freaking him out. As the Bishop says, "Isn't that just like religion for you... One day it's a nice way to spend your weekends and the next you're in the middle of a righteous theological clusterfuck."

Scalzi’s fast becoming my second-favourite FSF writer, topped only by the unsurpassable Robert J Sawyer. I leave you with this gem, about the dangers of truthfulness when programming an intelligent personal shopper program that "all-too-accurately modeled the shoppers' desires and outputted purchase ideas based on what the shoppers really wanted as opposed to what they wanted known they wanted. This resulted in one overcompensatingly masculine test user receiving suggestions for an anal plug and a tribute art book for homoerotic artist Tom of Finland ... After history's first recorded instance of a focus group riot, the personal shopper program was extensively rewritten." - Alex

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